Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper 1936-2010

I graduated from college in May of 1986 and accepted my first full-time job in September of that year. Before I was pulling a steady paycheck, I was a pretty faithful filmgoer, catching at least one movie every week, but when the bucks started rolling in (my first check was for just under $600 -- I was Midas, people!), I saw everything. And when that habit kicked in during the fall of 1986, it seemed like every movie I saw featured an astonishing Dennis Hopper performance.

And what an autumn it was for him! Fresh off a late-August role in Tobe Hooper's spunky follow-up to Texas Chain Saw Massacre, along came an acclaimed performance in the bracing River's Edge (the talk of Canadian film festivals, though not released in the US until Spring '87), his demented turn in the most brilliant film of the decade, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and his Oscar-nominated work as Shooter in Hoosiers, a movie with a heart as big as Indiana itself. After the lost decade of the 70s, and the slow crawl back to relevance during the 80s, Hopper exploded with breath-taking suddenness with four roles in three months. Hollywood loves its comebacks, and there have been many performers who have kick-started careers after years of obscurity, but I cannot recall anyone in the last quarter-century to have done so with the flashfire intensity that Hopper demonstrated with that quartet of films during that autumn. Once nowhere, he suddenly was everywhere. (And when Black Widow opened in February of '87, there were many US theaters that were showing three Dennis Hopper movies at the same time.)

So I'm going to leave it to others to wax eloquent about his years in the shadow of James Dean, his inability to find America anywhere in 1969, or the succession of psychotic characters that often threatened to stereotype his resurgence. No, I'm just going to express my sincere thanks that, when my love affair with cinema deepened to its life-sustaining passion, Dennis Hopper was there...and there...and there. The tagline for Hoosiers was, "They needed a second chance to finish first." So did Hopper, and all fans of film are grateful he received it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've read that he singlehandedly convinced Lynch to cast him in Blue Velvet, telling him that the main character was him to a tee.

R.I.P. to one of the great ones.